Staging and Performance in An Inspector Calls Explained

Staging and Performance in An Inspector Calls Explained

In the previous post, we were talking about the setting in An Inspector Calls, and now we’re going to take a look at the staging and performance of Priestley’s play.



At the start, the lighting must be ‘pink and intimate’. This creates a more welcoming atmosphere, as the colour pink connotes joy, and the adjective ‘intimate’ connotes family or friendship. However, perhaps it is also evocative of the phrase ‘rose-tinted spectacles’, an expression used to describe someone who views the world unrealistically. Perhaps Priestly is hinting that this ‘pink and intimate’ view of the family is better than it is – it is only an illusion of a perfect family – and foreshadows the family’s downfall. This further relates to the theme of appearance versus reality – externally this family is socially perfect and has a good social standing, but the more we look closely at the secrets of their lives, the more corrupt they truly are. 

After the Inspector arrives, the lighting changes, it becomes ‘brighter and harder’. The harsh light gives the impression of a police interrogation. It is almost as if the Inspector elicits this light himself, which suggests that he brings the spirit of interrogation with him. Bright, harsh light is able to shine into hidden corners that rosy, soft light can’t; this implies that the Inspector is shining light into the hidden corners of the Birlings’ lives that weren’t apparent at the start of the play. 

TASK: How does the intrusion of the Inspector on the engagement party create an intense and claustrophobic atmosphere? You should write your answer as 2 PEE paragraphs, and include a reference to lighting.

What is a PEE or PETAL Paragraph?


Dramatic irony, where the audience is aware of something that the characters don’t know, is used extensively throughout the play to expose the follies of the older generation. At the start of the play, in Mr. Birling’s long speeches, Priestley uses the technique of irony in regard to the development of the world, the war, and politics. He states that The Titanic is ‘absolutely unsinkable’, that war is ‘impossible’, and comments that, ‘In twenty or thirty years’ time – let’s say, in 1940 – you may be giving a little party like this – your son or daughter might be getting engaged – and I tell you by that time you’ll be living in a world that’ll have forgotten all these Capital versus Labour agitations and all these silly little war scares.’ In these comments, there is a large use of irony – the Titanic sinks on her maiden voyage, the First World War hits two years later, and the next decades are full of even worse Capital vs Labour troubles. 

Although it is set in 1912, the play was written in 1945 and first performed in 1946, so everyone reading or watching it would understand and be affected by the irony in Mr. Birling’s statements – they had just lived through his ‘impossible’ future. This further encourages the audience to distance themselves from the beliefs and opinions of the older Birling family members, as we realise that their beliefs were erroneous and deeply flawed. 


Typically, the clothing and attire of the characters is a little more flexible – it’s left up to the interpretation of the director. However, the older Birlings would undoubtedly dress smartly, in middle-class clothing that suited the Edwardian period. The younger Birlings are likely to dress in a more modern way, similar to Priestley’s own audience. The Inspector likely dresses in an official manner, like a police detective – he wears a “plain darkish suit”.

TASK: Watch clips from two different performances of An Inspector Calls. Make notes from each one about the clothing of the characters. Which performance do you prefer in terms of its staging and costume? Why?

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2023-01-04T22:52:25+00:00January 6th, 2023|Drama, English Literature|0 Comments
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